Is it really only a week since I wrote about OutRun? It feels like months have gone by, months mostly filled by playing OutRun 2006 Coast to Coast and Borderlands 2, both excellent games in their own rights. Anyway, a week has passed and today I'll be looking at another arcade title from Sega - one that couldn't be more distant from OutRun in tone if it was about kicking puppies off cliffs. It's 1993's battle-the-Xenomorphs lightgun shooter Alien 3: The Gun.
Just pretend that each time I write out the title of this game I've bothered to make the "3" superscript. It's a daft conceit anyway: this isn't Alien Cubed, after all, although there might be enough Xenomorphs included to make that title sort-of accurate.
You all know the basics when it comes to the Aliens franchise, right? It's the story of a race of nightmarish aliens who breed by having their babies jump out of your ribcage like Satan's own version of the "stripper in a cake" bit, aliens who have acid for blood and are remorseless killing machines and how they're still not as unpleasant as the human race and the unfathomable depths of our fuckbuckety nature.
This isn't the first time I've looked at a game set in the Alien universe, so if you're looking for more info on the subject then you can read the article about Alien Trilogy, a Doom-esque FPS developed by Probe. If you've already read that article, then you'll know that while Alien 3 (the movie) is generally not well-liked, I personally think it's an excellent film whose only real problem is existing in the shadow of it's two prequels, which is understandable because Alien and Aliens are the greatest examples of science-fiction horror and action respectively (and maybe outside the sci-fi genre).
So Alien 3: The Gun is a game based on a film I like a lot. This could go one of several different ways - it could be a travesty that doesn't match the themes and feel of its source material, or it could be a nice tribute that keeps the things that made Alien 3 memorable intact while still delivering an enjoyable gaming experience.
Sega, ever ones to go against the grain, decided on a different approach - they completely replaced the plot, characters and action of the movie with their own parallel-dimension version. Gone is Ripley's struggle against a lone Xenomorph on the prison planet Fiorina "Fury" 161, replaced by the story of two (as long as you play with two players) Colonial Marines who are sent to investigate an SOS call from the Sulaco, the Marine spaceship from the second movie. There's no Lt. Ellen Ripley at all in this one, folks, just a couple of nameless grunts on a mission to shoot the aliens. All the aliens. Aaaand... action!
The first stage takes place on the Sulaco itself, and even if I hadn't told you that this game was a lightgun shooter or the name Alien 3: The Gun hadn't clued you in, this screenshot should make it very obvious what's going on. You place your crosshair over the aliens and pull the trigger until they're dead. That's it. Happily, you don’t have to do this with a joystick or anything, because the original cabinet came with two whacking great guns attached for you to live out your fantasies of bug-hunting and staying frosty.
I've actually played the A3TG cabinet a couple of times, and the most memorable part of the experience is the guns themselves. They're big, heavy and they rattle. No, "rattle" is too gentle a word for it - with each squeeze of the trigger they erupt into a tendon-destroying frenzy of simulated recoil that leaves you feeling like you just shook hands with almighty Zeus himself. Imagine playing a carnival shooting gallery with a pneumatic drill and you're starting to get the picture. It's pretty good fun.
The only other additions to the aim-and-shoot gameplay are a button on the side of the gun that launches one of your limited number of screen-clearing grenades, and the fact that your gun's power decreases the longer you hold down the trigger. That's what the power bar at the bottom-left of the screen measures, and when I first starting playing I was worried that this mechanic would be like the similar-in-concept "repeated attacks do no damage" nightmare from The Astyanax, but thankfully the bar refills almost instantaneously when you release the trigger so as long as you remember to pull the trigger often instead of clamping it down the whole time, you'll be fine.
And you know what? It's good fun. The action is fast-paced, difficult but survivable with some practice. Aliens swarm at you from all sides, and they don't stop coming even after you've blown their arms or legs off - it's not uncommon to see an armless Xenomorph, acid blood the colour of a '90's rave poster pouring from its shoulder-stumps, launch himself through the air and headbutt you right in the face.
Graphically, it's not one of Sega's finest efforts: the proto-3D effects are showing their age, especially when you turn corners, but the sprites and backgrounds themselves are solid and capture the feel of the movies while still being unmistakably "arcade-y". I've said before that the arcade games of the Nineties often have a sense of "largeness," a kind of balls-out grandioseness that the consoles of the time were unable to replicate, and Alien 3: The Gun is no exception. It definitely doesn't give you much time to catch your breath, and soon enough you'll be facing the first boss, assuming you haven't been killed by one of the thousands of facehuggers and limbless Xenomorph drones that have somehow populated the Sulaco. As far as I remember, there were only three people left on board at the end of Aliens who could have conceivably hosted a chestburster, so where did all these other aliens come from? My best guess is that this is the Xenomorph equivalent of a teen party where some dopey fourteen-year-old accidentally invites the entire population of Manchester to their birthday shindig.
Like I was saying, here's the first boss. It’s a Super Facehugger! To be fair to Sega, there actually was a Super Facehugger in Alien 3... sort of. A "Royal Facehugger" was originally intended to appear in the movie, but its scenes were cut from the theatrical release. It had webbing between its finger-legs and a bladed tail, unlike the Super Facehugger you fight in the game, which is just a facehugger but bigger. Not "more super," even, just bulkier. Takes a larger shirt size, occupies more vol... oh, you get the idea. Its increased dimensions only serve to make it a larger target, and I'm sure you won't have any trouble killing the scuttling monstrosity as long as you remember to let your gun recharge every once in a while.
Remember kids, every Super Facehugger come packed full of our delicious lemon-and-lime marshmallow filling! Ha ha, just kidding, that's deadly acid. I'm glad none of it is splashing toward me, but it's probably not a coincidence that as soon as the boss spills his caustic guts all over the place the ship decides to explode. Fortunately I'm right next to an escape pod, so I'm sure I'll be fine.
The rest of the game, like the movie, takes place on the prison planet Fiorina 161. That's just about the only thing it's got in common with the movie, though - from here on out Sega are taking us on a completely new adventure, a Bizarro-world version of Alien 3 that shares little more than backgrounds with the movie it's based on. This is the big draw of Alien 3: The Gun for me: seeing an alternate take on the movie, with Sega showing us what might have been if Alien 3 had continued in the alien-infested action vein of Aliens instead of returning to the "unkillable monster stalks the dark" horror of the first movie. Oh, and completely doing away with Ripley. It's weird not having her around, and I suppose we're just meant to assume that she died in her cryo-tube when the Sulaco exploded at the end of stage one. Jesus, that's grim, I kinda wish I hadn't thought of that.
The stage starts off on the planet's barren surface, and so far it's all in accordance with what you see in Alien 3: the movie. Then you stumble across the minefield.
Yup. I'm pretty sure this wasn't in the film - after all, the prisoners made it clear that there were no weapons on the planet. The obvious solution to this discrepancy is that having taken one look at the sinister grace of the Xenomorph, the prisoners knew that the land mines would be useless against the aliens' delicate tread, and so it proves as they tip-toe through the minefield as though the anti-personnel weaponry were nothing more dangerous than a meadow of wild flowers. Your marine is rather more cumbersome, however, and you need to shoot the mines ahead of you before you step on them and take damage.
So, I managed to rationalise the sudden appearance of a minefield, but immediately after that I'm truly stumped by something I cannot explain away. You see, Fiorina 161 has a junkyard, and that junkyard is home to a small army of killer robots.
I've got nothing. What's especially puzzling is that these robots seem to have been assembled from scrap materials. If they were just your regular, run-of-the-mill androids then sure, they'd be something sent by Weyland-Yutani to capture alien samples for their bio-weapon research department - a department which, it must be said, is sorely lacking in results. These aren't Company 'droids, though: they're scrap-bots, Junkions, a race of hostile bipedal armour that has somehow evolved out of the primordial ooze of the prison's garbage. They have guns. Guns that I can only surmise they found in the junkyard - of course the prisoners don't have any weapons, because they threw them all in the rubbish.
No, there's no explanation for this besides some at Sega really wanting to put killer junk-bots in a game and by God it doesn't matter which game. Right, what has the rest of this stage got for me?
Oh come on. A tank!? Fine, whatever. Let's rumble, Mr. Tank. Oh, what's that? You have a name? And your name is Iron Tortoise? Of course it is. Beautiful.
At least he's a fairly helpful tank, and whatever part of him you're supposed to be shooting lights up so you know exactly where to send your bullets. No wonder the Iron Tortoise has been abandoned on this desolate rock.
The next stage - for some reason called "Stage 2.2" when "Stage 3" would have done just fine - starts off much like the last one, shooting aliens amongst the rocky outcroppings of the planet's surface. Once you get closer to the prison, though, a couple of things happen. Firstly, the amount of aliens seems to increase dramatically, like they were all just loitering outside the prison and waiting for someone with a key to go in so they could tailgate in behind him.
The other thing is that your view switches to infrared mode.
All this does is tint the screen red. If you're wondering why I bothered making this screenshot into an animated gif, that's because it was an attempt to capture Alien 3: The Gun's method of displaying on-screen information. Things like your HUD, the message from Weyland-Yutani in the intro and this infrared mode border all flash very rapidly between a few colours spaced slightly apart. The gif doesn't really show it, but in-game it results in a curious blurring effect that gives these things the look of something being displayed on an old cathode-ray tube monitor - sort of fuzzy and undefined, a style that somehow manages to look futuristic whilst also looking like it's from the 80's. I really like the outcome, too: it could easily have been an unbearable, flickery mess but it ends up adding just the right amount of visual flair to the interface.
Before you can get into the prison proper, there's a boss hanging out on whatever correctional facilities have instead of porches. Weyland-Yutani don't seem very confident in identifying it, as it's labelled both an "unidentified creature" and an alien. That little info box also says "Type: HUMAN," further proof that you should never trust the Company to do any science ever.
"So, the boss is just an alien," I hear you scoff. You just don't understand, this alien has a secret power - the power of being really tall.
My eye level is right at groin height, so this alien must be about thirteen feet tall. He is, however, just as easy to kill as the ordinary aliens, and his giant size gives him the same disadvantage as the Super Facehugger in that he's too bloody big to miss. All he does is scuttle around in the background and occasionally wander over to claw at you, but that's enough about my dating techniques, cue rimshot, I'll be here all week. Really, though, this alien is a pushover and once it's dead you can head into the prison.
The chestbursters seem most pleased to see you, throwing themselves into your arms. Or your face, it's hard to tell from this vantage point. After a short trip through the prisons corridors, you reach an elevator.
Seriously, through the years I've been writing VGJunk I must have typed the words "elevator," "lift" and any others that describe a box that transports people or goods through vertical movement thousands of times. They’re the second most common feature of retro videogames, just behind ludicrous yet generic stories.
So, a lift. I assumed I was going to be attacked while the elevator travelled slowly to its destination, but it turns out to be a way of choosing my path through the next area. Branching paths! Good going Sega, I knew you wouldn't let me down of the replayability front.
Choosing floor B1 takes you through the abattoir, where chestbusters burst from the hanging carcasses and judging by this screenshot facehuggers try a novel approach to oesophageal penetration by coming at you upside-down.
Route B2 cuts through the cafeteria, a cunning ploy on the aliens' part as the dense forest of upturned chairs gives them plenty to hide behind. You're also introduced to the prisoners here, as well as a unique alien attack where they reach down from the ceiling and grab the prisoners by the head. You're not supposed to shoot the inmates, although there's not much punishment if you do - they are supposedly the galaxy's most hardened human scum, after all.
Whichever route you chose, you'll end up facing the stage's boss - the Super Dogburster, which funnily enough was the name of a product I invented and tried to sell to QVC's pet care department. Suffice to say that after the test demonstration, the QVC studio was never quite the same and security quickly marched me off the premises.
The Dogburster fight goes much like the last one, although this young scamp is considerably more difficult because he has a projectile attack in the form of acid spit. The alien in Alien 3 could spit acid, as it happens, so I guess this is proof that at least one person at Sega actually sat down and watched the movie. Like all the bosses in this game, you just need to shoot it when you can and make sure your gun doesn't run out of juice.
Oh, and this whole selectable routes thing? I hope you weren't mad keen on it or anything, because that's the only time in the game that you get to choose your path. Half-hearted, wasn't it?
A group of prisoners are waiting for you at the start of the next stage, posing like they're part of some Broadway show about skinheads. That one leaning backwards has even started clicking his fingers like he's in West Side Story or something. A musical about a gang war between Fifties street punks and the implacable interstellar horror of the Xenomorphs - I'm sure we can all agree that would be fantastic, or at least superior to Alien Resurrection.
This stage is based around the scene in the movie where the inmates are trying to lure the alien into their metal foundry so they can drop molten lead on it to kill it. That might have worked against one alien, but when your prison's packed with more vicious, skeletal creatures than the fashion industry it's a bit of a non-starter, really. Still, it doesn't stop the prisoners from trying, and this ended up being my favourite part of the game. It's definitely the section that's most accurate to the movie, but beyond that the addition of the prisoners gives the gameplay a little more edge as you try not to blow them away and the hectic series of sprints and quick turns as you race down the tunnels makes the experience that bit more exciting, a little more visceral, without it becoming too ludicrously difficult.
Not that it's easy, though. This Xenomorph was so determined to kill me that not only is it trying to chew my face off, it's also got a facehugger in each hand. It doesn't care about the method, but it's going to make damn sure I get an egg implanted in me somewhere unless I shoot it first. That's what those blue orbs are, by the way - they're my bullets. The alien doesn't have a deadly breath attack or anything. No, I just fire bubbles. Between this and the fact my gun needs to cool down every few seconds I'm beginning to suspect that I wasn't given a standard-issue Colonial Marine Pulse Rifle at the start of this mission.
The boss is another alien. I'm not shocked, just a little disappointed. You know how this works, just launch your bubbles at it until it dies. Well, it doesn't die, it falls off a platform and the between-stage text informs you that it appears to be "gradually changing its form".
It also refers to this special alien as the "Boss" of all the other aliens, and now I can't imagine him as anything other than a Sopranos-style Mob Boss complete with New Jersey accent. We gonna take dese goombas down to the hive an' cocoon 'em, capisce?
The final stage is more of the same, thousands of Xenomorphs flinging themselves at you as you travel through the leadworks. If you've managed to build up a stock of screen-clearing bombs, now would be a good time to use them.
There's one last moment where you're offered the illusion of choice as our Marine passes by two doors and decides that he just has to shoot one of them. Opening door number one triggers a fight with (what a surprise) some aliens, but if you choose door number two you have to fight some androids.
Big, buff, blue androids, like idealised mechanical versions of Tobias Fünke. If the one on the right is anything to go by, androids are full of porridge. Is that the missing key that's preventing mankind from developing true artificial life? Breakfast oats?
The androids aren't any tougher than the aliens despite having guns, but the real kicker here is that our trusty Marine completely ignores the door he's just opened and instead keeps travelling to the left. Why did you even need to open one of these doors in the first place? Were you getting anxious because it'd been, ooh, four whole seconds since the last time you shot something? Soldier, I'm having trouble summoning any sympathy for your predicament when you just start randomly opening doors to alien encounters that could easily have been avoided.
Soon enough you'll catch up to the alien boss, (Don Goreleone? Vito Xenovese?) and it's conveniently decided to make its final stand right in front of the smelting apparatus that you were going to use to kill it in the first place. Now that's just downright thoughtful of the slavering star-beast. All you need to do is use the magical power of your bubble-bullets to push the alien backwards until it falls into the mould.
Yes, the molten lead will surely kill the monster and it definitely won't have survived or anything, except of course that's exactly what happens. If you've seen Alien 3 you'll be expecting it, but if you haven't then the alien emerges from its relaxing lead jacuzzi and you need to douse it with water to finish the job.
The universe's most fearsome predator, destroyed by a light shower. Okay, so what actually happens is that the rapid cooling of the lead causes the alien to explode through thermal shock but let's just pretend that the Xenomorph was melted away by the water. It gives the whole adventure a lighthearted Wizard of Oz type vibe, don't you think?
So somehow the death of this one alien is extremely important and signals the end of the game, even though there are hundreds more of them running through the prison complex. You may also note that this is one of the very rare occasions that an Alien videogame doesn't end with a fight against an alien Queen - in Alien Trilogy, for example, you have to fight three of the bloody things. Nope, the last boss is just "an alien". Well, it's the "Alien Boss" but I didn't really see much evidence of any real leadership qualities, nor did I notice it supposedly "changing its form," unless... was this one Xenomorph all the bosses, from the Super Facehugger to this crispy lead-battered treat? Well, no: I'm pretty certain that the Iron Tortoise was not an alien. Giant battle-tanks aside, I suppose it's a possibility.
Alien 3: The Gun has one last trick up its sleeve, and just when you think your nightmare is over, a Weyland-Yutani representative shows up and asks you what you've done with the alien samples that he's here to collect for the bio-weapons division. You inform him that there are no samples because you have shot them all / coated them in liquid metal and blown them apart. The Company man deals with this news in a calm and professional manner.
No he doesn't, he tries to murder you. Never mind that you're a Space Marine who has just fought an onslaught of Xenomorph horrors and survived, this man in a trenchcoat still thinks he can take you in a fight. I'm guessing that he's not one of the Company's brightest sparks.
His health bar may label him as "An Unidentified Man," but this is clearly supposed to be an appearance by Bishop II, the is-he-an-android-or-not character played by Lance Henriksen who pops up at the end of Alien 3 to try to convince Ripley to give him the alien she's ferrying about in her chest cavity. Ripley doesn't appear in this game, so we can just get straight down to the gunfight. It's not difficult. In fact, none of the bosses in this game are much of a challenge - the stages themselves are where you'll lose most of your health as the endless tide of aliens slowly saps your energy.
Bishop II really, truly is the final boss, and once he's dead our heroic Colonial Marines can get off this godforsaken rock and go on to live long, fulfilling lives.
Ah. The game ends with the player being gunned down by a platoon of Weyland-Yutani troops. It's pretty depressing, but it's also nice to see the "everyone dies" ending in a videogame for a change and it definitely fits with the tone of the series. At least the Company won't get their hands on the alien, so your death was not in vain.
Yeah, I'm going with "dead."
I enjoyed Alien 3: The Gun, I honestly did. It's showing its age a little, but aren’t we all? The simplicity of the gameplay works in its favour, allowing the hectic waves of enemies to never become too overwhelming. As a half-hour blast of arcade action it's a lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the Alien franchise. Of course it has flaws: the sound effects are weak and don't quite match the movies, giving the sound an odd bootleg quality. The branching paths are a tease that's never followed up on, which is a shame because the game would have greatly benefited from a little more choice. Some different weapons would have been nice, too - you can pick up a flamethrower every once in a while but it runs out of ammo almost instantly, and there's no Smart Gun at all.
My favourite thing about Alien 3: The Gun, however, is the bizarre alternate version of Alien 3 that is brings us, a version where Ripley sits this one out and two Marines fight their way through an infested prison that's guarded by a huge tank. It's certainly different, I'll give Sega that.
In summary, it's easy to recommend this game if you're a fan of the Aliens movies, or arcade lightgun games, or odd takes on existing franchises. If you come into it not expecting anything too amazing, you'll probably have a good time - and for a videogame based on a movie, that feels like more than enough.